Town garden redesign for family

Lucy and Steve Smith hired an expert to give their garden a toddler-friendly makeover that’s also great for entertaining

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‘About a year after we’d moved in, we decided to work on the house and the garden at the same time, because it was important that it was ready for the arrival of our daughter,’ says Lucy, who, with husband Steve, had a clear idea of what they wanted when they turned their attention to the project.

Having lived with the garden for a while, they felt that it was uninviting – it was overgrown, with unattractive raised beds and too much concrete for their liking – and knew it had to be changed to suit their needs.

‘It was totally impractical for a child; there was a raised platform that had to be dug out to make the garden much more open and accessible,’ explains Lucy.

Fact file

  • The owners: Lucy Smith, a homemaker, lives here with husband Steve, who works in financial services, their daughter Amelia, two, and miniature dachshund Dragon
  • The property: A four-bedroom Victorian mid-terrace house
  • The location: North-east London
  • What they spent: The couple’s garden project cost around £24,000

Improving access

As it was, access to the garden from the kitchen door was awkward because of the steps up to it. Lucy and Steve wanted to be able to walk straight out into the garden and towards the back gate easily and with no interruptions. The kitchen was remodelled at the same time, to turn it into a large, open-plan room with full-width windows overlooking the garden, and this offered the opportunity to design the garden as a seamless extension of the ground floor of the house.

It was a priority for Lucy to be able to see all areas of the garden from the kitchen in the new design, so that she could keep an eye both on her daughter playing, and on the family dog. ‘I am not a gardener,’ she says, ‘so I wanted little hands-on gardening beyond watering. We needed the space to work for us, while being simple, green and leafy. I also wanted to keep it looking bright and clean — like our kitchen. Neither of us wanted to mow a lawn.’

Raised beds are a low-maintenance solution for keeping planting tidy, and give the impression of surrounding the custom-made furniture with soft greenery. The artificial grass is from Nam Grass

Designing the garden

The couple set about making their ideas a reality. Steve went online to research local garden designers, comparing their styles, and came across Earth Designs. Its portfolio of projects reassured him that the style of designer Katrina Kieffer-Wells would fit with their own.

Katrina drew up a plan for the garden following their first consultation, and Steve and Lucy were more than happy to go ahead with her ideas. The project then moved swiftly, taking seven weeks from commission to completion. The only delays were caused by the very wet summer of 2012 and also because five tons of garden waste had to be removed through the back gate, and the garden backs on to common land. This proved to be a major hurdle. Liasing with the local authorities was time-consuming, although ultimately successful.

Lucy and Steve were keen to keep an area of lawn where their daughter could play, but, as they wanted a low-maintenance space and the garden is small and shaded, they felt that grass was not the most practical option. When Katrina suggested artificial grass, Lucy was initially a little sceptical.

‘I didn’t know that it could look so natural these days. I was really surprised, and it made perfect sense,’ she says. As well as the couple’s need for low maintenance, a hosepipe ban at the time helped to convince them.

The space is divided into separate areas, but the design works as a whole. A barbecue and toys are stored behind a gabion wall

A family space

Katrina’s original aim was to create a neat and accessible play space that would be multifunctional, for adults to enjoy, too — a garden with a thoughtful and practical design. The new space would include room to store Steve’s bike, a place to hide children’s toys, plus a swing, a lawn, attractive raised beds and a dining area.

Having decided on raised beds, Katrina developed several design solutions for the space. The most visually striking is the gabion wall. As well as being a contemporary, stylish design feature, it was a convenient way to use up some of the rubble removed from the garden. More importantly, the wall is an attractive way to screen off part of the garden, where there is a shed for storage and a barbecue.

A cosy seating and dining area was created alongside one of the garden’s raised beds. A substantial piece of custom-made furniture, it is fixed, so during winter there is nothing to store away.

Using decking timber, even more storage has been incorporated into the design, fitting into a niche in a raised bed. A paddling pool and seat cushions are stored within the decked area, and the decking opens out to make a daybed. The top can be removed to reveal a sandpit/ballpit for daughter Amelia.

The redesigned small space is stylish, simple and uncluttered. ‘I really love our garden now,’ says Lucy. ‘It’s great for entertaining friends in the summer, and Amelia enjoys standing on the decking and digging in the soil behind.’

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Project notes

Lucy Smith shares her experiences of designing a small family garden

What I’ve learnt

‘If you don’t know anything about design, you can’t think of everything yourself. It was so hard for us to see the real space. I recommend working with someone who really understands garden design. Without them, you don’t realise the possibilities.’

My top tip

‘Even if you don’t end up using a professional designer, do buy their initial design drawings, as they will give you a better idea of what you can achieve. Be honest about what you need. If you’ll

My best purchase

‘This was definitely the gabion wall. It gives our garden a feature, and allowed us to use up quite a lot of rubble, which we would have had to clear away. It provides a home for wildlife, too. Gabions are really easy to make. You can buy cages that have lids and fill them with a slab and backfill.’

My favourite website

‘We found inspiration for our garden on the designer’s website, earthdesigns.co.uk.’

I couldn’t live without…

‘…the built-in bench seat and table. We get so much use out of them. They are functional, easy to care for, and look great. Our artificial grass has also been fantastic; it’s extremely convincing and needs no work whatsoever.’

If I did it all again…

‘…I might paint the walls another colour, such as taupe or grey — something a bit warmer. We might experiment with this in the future. ’

My favourite spot

‘We both love sitting on the bench seat under the big tree fern, looking back to the gabion wall.’

The costs

Raised beds£6,000
Clearance/preparation£3,600
Decking/deck set£3,500
Paving£2,800
Lighting£1,900
Artificial lawn£1,800
Planting£1,500
Gabion screen£1,450
Timber arch£800
Design fee£600
TOTAL£23,950